High-level WHO visit emphasizes critical importance of eradicating polio from Pakistan

Islamabad: With the world edging ever closer to eradicating polio, a high-level WHO visit is emphasizing Pakistan’s key role in tackling the highly contagious and crippling disease.

The visit by WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean, Dr Hussein A. Gezairy and the Assistant Director General for Polio Eradication and Humanitarian Action in Crises, Dr Bruce Aylward, is part of a push to completely eradicate polio in Pakistan by 2012. WHO and UNICEF are working closely with the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, along with Federal and Provincial Governments, to vaccinate every child in Pakistan against the polio virus.

With 44 cases reported so far in FATA (18), Sindh (12), Baluchistan (11), and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (3), compared to 20 for the same period last year, every effort is being made to support and implement the National Emergency Action Plan 2011 for Polio Eradication.

Dr Gezairy said that with a combination of high-level political commitment and effective action on the ground, Pakistan has the potential to eradicate polio.

―The implementation of the National Emergency Action Plan under the direction of the President of Pakistan is clear evidence of the political will and determination to interrupt polio virus transmission by the end of 2011. An important additional step is to ensure that this commitment is mirrored at the Union Council level.

―To stop the transmission of the polio virus in this country, it is essential that every child has the opportunity to be immunized, no matter how remote their location or how difficult it is to reach them,‖ said Dr Gezairy.

―It is of vital importance that any issue that reduces the effectiveness of immunization activities be identified and addressed at the earliest opportunity,” said Dr Gezairy.

UNICEF Pakistan Representative, Dan Rohrmann, said that the right to child survival, growth and development is enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

―The joint effort by the Government of Pakistan, and the global polio partners including UNICEF, WHO, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Rotary International will not only assist in reversing a worrying trend in polio cases, but will also help meet fundamental rights of children, namely the right to survival and a healthy life.

―The time is opportune to invest in children for the future of Pakistan – an investment that will forever change the lives of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children.”

Dr Guido Sabatinelli, WHO Representative for Pakistan, said: ―The goal of eradicating polio from Pakistan forever is within our grasp. It is now time to act at a different scale and tenor. With commitments at the highest governmental levels, with international backing and partnerships, with generous resources by many stakeholders and above all, a specific time line, we must show that tangible goals can be made.

―In practice, this means more initiatives like the national three-day immunization campaign in May that targeted 33 million children needs to be pursued. Accordingly, further polio campaigns, including one in June that will target 16.5 million children, will take place throughout the rest of the year.

Polio is a highly infectious viral disease that attacks the nervous system. Children under five years of age are the most vulnerable to the disease, but timely immunization can prevent infection. Children can be infected with polio when they eat or drink food and water contaminated with the virus, or when they come into direct contact with an infected person’s faecal matter. The virus damages nerve cells and can cause crippling paralysis, and can be fatal in a small number of cases.

For more information, contact:
A. Sami Malik
Communication Specialist
UNICEF Pakistan Country Office
90 Margalla Road, F8/2, Islamabad
Tel: +92 51 2097811 and +92 51 2097799
Mob: +92300 855 6654
Email: asmalik@unicef.org
Web: www.unicef.org/Pakistan

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